Native plants: Learn more about the benefits of these plants

Michigan native plants are both beautiful and beneficial in yards and gardens.

What is a “native plant?”

The definition of a “native plant” is not widely agreed upon and has varying answers depending on whom you ask. As part of their Native Plant Materials Policy, the U.S. Forest Service states that “Native plants are defined as all indigenous terrestrial and aquatic plant species that evolved naturally in a defined native ecosystem.” Additionally, the Connecticut Natural Resource Conservation Service notes that, “The word native should always be used with a geographic qualifier (that is, native to New England [for example]). Only plants found in this country before European settlement are considered to be native to the United States.” These two definitions cover the basics of what constitutes a native plant.

Michigan native plants have many benefits

Our native Michigan wildlife species have co-evolved with our native Michigan plants over thousands of years and have become strongly linked to them. Therefore, planting native plants supports and provides habitat for our native wildlife. For example, the endangered Karner blue butterfly caterpillars can only feed on wild lupine plants. Karner blue butterflies will not lay their eggs on any other plant, leaving them dependent on these native plants for their survival. Native plants are often required in restoration or re-vegetation plantings installed by natural resource organizations and government agencies due to their ability to provide important habitat for our native wildlife species.

When native plants are well-matched with the existing environmental conditions, they often need little water, fertilizer or pesticides inputs once they are established.

Michigan State University Extension has done extensive research on the ability of some native plants to be excellent attractors of pollinators and beneficial insects. Pollinators provide us with very important ecological services that keep our plants producing fruits and vegetables. Beneficial insects provide us with free pest management services by feeding on the harmful insects that eat our ornamental and crop plants.

Michigan native plants can be part of your “Smart Gardening” strategy

Since weather patterns have shifted and all gardeners are now dealing with more extreme weather and increased disease problems, changes in gardening are necessary. Many of the benefits of using native plants in your landscapes correspond to smart gardening techniques that allow us to adapt to these changes while saving money and enhancing the environment.

But the best reason to use native plants is because they are gorgeous! So become a smart gardener with a beautiful garden and “go native!”

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